4 years ago exactly, I rode my mountain bike throughout Panjshir and on the hills that surround Kabul. It was one part experiment and one part adventure. In a country that doesn’t allow its women to ride bikes, I wanted to challenge the gender barrier as a foreign woman and test the reactions. I also wanted to experience a country known mostly for war, poverty, and oppression on two wheels, surrounded by the beauty of the Panjshir mountains and the kindness of the people I encountered, and share a different view of Afghanistan back home.
It wasn’t until three years later that I found women who rode. I met Coach Seddiq in late 2012, the head of the Afghan bicycing federation who was coaching not only the boys but also started a women’s team. My heart soared and we immediately got to work to support with equipment, gear, and training. NBC Nightly News covered the story and we collected an enormous amount of gear along with 5 carbon racing bikes from Liv/giant.
This spring, we delivered the gear, and introduced a film crew from Let Media to the team. Filmmaker Sarah Menzies, came to make a film about the women’s national team, the first women to ride and race. Afghan Cycles launches in 2014 and it couldn’t be more fitting as the next steps with women’s cycling launch.
A few days ago I met Zohra, a young women who is studying archeology at Bamiyan University and works for the local radio station. She learned to ride bikes growing up in Iran and wants to start a women’s’ team now that she is back. Bamiyan is very progressive by Afghan standards in regards to women’s rights and women in sports, and she wanted to build on the increase in sports and tourism with a girls team. I agreed to start the team with her as the team leader, and immediately met with Coach Seddiq who gave his full support, as did the President of the Afghan Olympic Federation.
Spring 2014, the first Bamiyan women’s bicycling team will launch and its just one more sign of the progression of women’s rights in Afghanistan and the importance of sports in community and culture. Mountain2Mountain’s name is all the more symbolic as we continue to build programming in Afghanistan… mountain to mountain, village to village, person to person, connecting communities and cultures has always been at the heart of our approach. To start work in a province that closely mimics my own, a high alpine province deep in the Hindu Kush is not unlike my own mountain town in Colorado, with emerging ski tourism, and national parks, is a dream come true.
Next up with be filling up my rented storage unit with as many bikes, clothes, stationary bikes, indoor trainers, and equipment as we can to ship over to continue our support with the national teams and to allow us to start the Bamiyan team. Look out world, the women of Afghanistan are riding bikes, and they are pedaling a revolution!